Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 124 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 5 November 2012
Cat No: BFIB1058
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The Soviet Influence: Battleship Potemkin / Drifters
Double bill of silent features from the 1920s. ’Battleship Potemkin’ (1925), masterpiece of Russian silent film pioneer Sergei M.... Read More
One of the most original video releases of recent years, The Soviet Influence: From Turksib to Night Mail showed the difference between something that has been intelligently curated as opposed to merely programmed. By placing the undeservedly forgotten Soviet drama-documentary Turksib alongside a number of British documentaries that came in its wake, it demonstrated strong stylistic and historical links between them that until then had been largely confined to film textbooks. The same is true of the sequel, which recreates the simultaneous British premieres of Sergei Eisenstein's incendiary (and then BBFC-rejected) Battleship Potemkin and John Grierson's pioneering documentary Drifters in a double bill on 10 November 1929.
A seemingly permanent fixture in critics' polls, Eisenstein's film needs little introduction. Originally planned as an epic titled The Year 1905, a rushed production schedule reduced the project's scope to covering a single incident, the mutiny on a Tsarist battleship that briefly seemed to herald something more revolutionary. One of the cinema's supreme masterpieces of visual composition and rhythmic editing, it's presented here with the famous score by Edmond Meisel which accompanied its 1926 Berlin premiere and which Eisenstein himself preferred.
If the work of North Sea herring fishermen, the subject of Drifters, seems sedate by comparison, it's nonetheless hard to miss Eisenstein's influence on the way that Grierson uses montage, often to draw explicit contrasts between the natural world and the increasing encroachment of heavy industry into one of mankind's oldest professions. It was mostly shot on authentic locations, but it includes some remarkable underwater sequences staged at the Plymouth Marine Biological Research Station.
The double bill influenced several 1930s documentaries, three examples of which are included here. Grierson's own Granton Trawler (1934), about a small fishing vessel, elaborated on the silent Drifters with its complex, commentary-free soundtrack. He was so satisfied with the end result that he used it as a teaching aid when training younger colleagues. Len Lye and Harry Watt responded with, respectively, the colourful, intensely rhythmic semi-abstract promotional film Trade Tattoo (1937) and the intensely dramatic North Sea (1938), which recreated the real-life rescue of an imperilled trawler.